5th october 2016

by rachel

I flew off from Singapore on the 17th of August. It’s now the 5th of October. More than a month has passed by so quickly. Between orientation, settling in, choosing classes, getting involved in extra-curricular’s, the onset of midterms and papers, there’s been so little time for me to take a breath and reflect on the things that have passed me by.

I still wake up each day incredibly grateful that I’m here, even on the days that feel too stressful, the days that I went to bed crying because everything felt too hard, too fast. Truthfully, I didn’t expect college to be this hard or this stressful. But it is. What we would have spent at least a week covering in school flies by within half a lesson here. Essays that we were given ungraded drafts, comments and weeks worth of work for in school are now a one time submission worth 20% of your grade, to be done within a week.

Honestly I’ve cried so many times since being here.

I’m still thankful though, to be learning and growing; I really really love the classes I’ve been in and the professors I get to interact with. I’ve come to learn about more about the sentiments surrounding South Africa after apartheid, I’ve come to realize that Japan isn’t as homogenous as it frames itself to be, about the experiences of Filipina women married into rural Japanese areas, I’ve looked through old documents and newsletters published by the Rohingya around 1992 when Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest and realised how much faith they had in her, cementing how betrayed they must have felt with the way she has chosen to approach Rohingya issues now that her party is leading Burma.

Tatmadaw Militant: “Why do all of you support Aung San Suu Kyi so much? What can she do for you?”

Rohingya person: “When she is in power we will have a free state that truly cares about its people, we will have our rights.”

Tatmadaw Militant: “You will regret this, you will all regret this.”

The above interaction was quoted from memory and not exact but you see why, reading that, upset me. I’ve come to question whether the framework of “indigeneity” as created by the western world is alienating within Southeast Asia, preventing the progression of the rights of minority ethnic groups within the region.

Meanwhile, the other day in class, hearing a classmate censure a book for having “no strong feminist female characters” just because her definition of “strong feminist female characters” mandated having to behave in a way particular to the notion of feminism as defined by small pockets of western media, it struck me (for the first time really) how ‘white feminism’ really was an issue. That it (and she) ignored the way people from various backgrounds all over the world are struggling to negotiate different systems of power, systems that cannot be understood in the same way that gender inequality is understood in the context of university grounds, cities like NYC etc. I spoke up in class about it and was glad I did. The experience help me concretise ideas that had been communicated to me and floating around in my mind for awhile.

It sounds kind of silly but I genuinely feel like I’m learning and I’m so thankful for that. Beyond everything that’s going on in the classroom, there are beautiful things that have been happening around me as well. Friends, suite-mates, suite-mates-turned-friends, who are endlessly kind, who grab a meal for me on days when I’m rushing between classes and can’t stop at the dining hall or the days when I’m holed up in my room trying to complete an essay.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve gone apple-picking, celebrated an anniversary, auditioned and been accepted into a slam poetry group, belted songs from musicals loudly with a friend, jammed on a ukulele with a different friend, took a train by myself to a different state, a different city.

This is equal parts an update on my life for the people I care about back home but who I haven’t been able to catch up with yet and also a reminder to myself that, despite the stresses that have been piling up, I’m in a good place. That there are so many reasons to be happy and that I can work through all these little milestones. I’m trying to remind myself that college was never meant to be easy, that that’s the reason why I’m doing it. And as long as I’m learning (and learning well) along the way, building new relationships, growing old ones, as long as I continue to be happy with the person I am and the person I’m becoming, any stumbling that happens on the way is worth it.

I truly truly am thankful, I have every reason to be.